What’s up, Doc?

This week I was lucky enough to sit down with family physician Dr. Jacqueline McDougall to discuss some health trends and concerns in the university student demographic. Here’s what she had to say.

Q: What are the most common health concerns you see in young adults and university students?

A: The most common thing I see by far are mental health concerns, mainly anxiety and depression. University is a time when a lot of young adults are more independent – they may be away from home for the first time and find this to be a stressful situation leading to mental health concerns.

It’s really important to stay connected to family and friends, which is really helpful to reduce stress and improve your mood. If your anxiety is a bigger concern, it may be important for you to see a counsellor or a family doctor to discuss what other options may be available to you.

Q: What do you think university students could do better to make sure they stay healthy this winter?

A: Prevention is the key to staying healthy. I always encourage people to wash their hands, get adequate amounts of sleep, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. Immunizations are also a great idea at this time of year, particularly flu vaccines.

Q: What immunizations are most important for university students to have?

A: It’s a great idea to check and ensure you’ve had all the regular childhood vaccines, such as mumps, measles, polio, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis B and chickenpox.

Immunization is also available against HPV, which we now know is a virus linked to genital warts and genital cancers. The vaccine covers the nine most common subtypes of HPV, so it is highly effective and is recommended for both men and women.

Other immunizations may be considered as well, such as hepatitis A vaccines, especially if you’re travelling to affected areas.

Q: Don’t vaccines contain the virus they’re trying to protect against? Isn’t that dangerous?

A: Vaccines may contain the killed organism or a less virulent form of the organism, but they have been thoroughly tested before approval and are among the safest medical products available. Serious side effects are very rare, and numerous investigations have determined that they are not associated with autism, multiple sclerosis, brain damage or asthma.

Q: What do you think university students need to know about alcohol and cannabis use?

A: It’s great to get together with family and friends to have fun and celebrate. Often alcohol is involved. Know your limits. Current recommendations for women are to limit consumption to two alcoholic drinks in one sitting, with a weekly maximum of 10 drinks; for men, the recommended limit is three drinks per sitting or 15 drinks per week.

Regarding cannabis consumption, I would recommend proceeding with caution. We know that the brain continues to develop and put down neural networks until around 24 years of age. Cannabis can disrupt this process and some studies have reported a decline in IQ for regular users.

Marijuana may also be linked with psychiatric conditions such as psychosis, and regular consumption may increase the risk of developing psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, especially in those who may be genetically predisposed to the disease.

Lastly, do not drive while impaired from either alcohol or marijuana. This may mean waiting eight hours or more after smoking or ingestion of marijuana.

Remember, for use of any substance, be smart and stay safe.

If you want to learn more about what health services are offered at the Wellness Centre or are covered by MASU insurance, feel free to drop by the Wellness Centre or email wellness@mta.ca or healthintern@mta.ca! Have a healthy week!

Rachel McDougall
Rachel McDougall is a contributor to the Argosy.